Jan. 9, 2009 -- From the curious to the kooky to what seems plain crazy, some people will try just about anything to cure what ails them -- and celebrities are some of the most visible users of these nonstandard remedies.
Alternative medicine is generally described as practices that are not part of standard care and that may not be taught in a medical school.
For those not inclined to put all their eggs in a standard medical basket, there are a plethora of alternative treatments to choose from, ranging from highly common treatments that might be practiced in a hospital to those that are more obscure.
Some, such as homeopathy or ayurveda, have a long and rich history as traditional healing techniques. Others, such as chiropractic, are widely practiced and vetted. Studies have shown that these treatment systems can have positive and even curative effects on those who try them.
Some forms of alternative medicine have been gaining credibility, to the point where many major academic institutions and hospitals have departments devoted to complementary or alternative medicine. The National Institutes of Health established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 1998 to "explore complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science," according to the company's Web site.
But other treatments are less likely to pass medical muster. The effects of treatments and therapies that deal with energies and purport to alter your mood or state of mind can be difficult to quantify. No one can prove that a gemstone necklace isn't increasing the wearer's energy and sense of well being, as gem therapy purports to do, nor is there a scientific way to measure any such feelings.
These techniques are difficult to study clinically so no one can be 100 percent sure that they work. On the other hand, no one can say with certainty that they do not work. And so, an alternative medicine seeker is left with the mantra: If it feels good, it is good.
Therein -- perhaps -- lays the healing power.
Alternative treatments left a lasting impression on actress Gwyneth Paltrow -- literally. In 2004, Paltrow showed up to a New York film premiere in a low-cut black dress and a line of circular welts across her back, according to BBC News.
At second look, many alternative health and Chinese medicine practitioners piped up with an explanation. Paltrow had apparently been treated with the ancient practice of cupping. Repeated calls to her publicist were not returned.
Practitioners apply a cup, or a cone, to the skin and create a vacuum with hot air, or simply through suction at the top of the cup. The suction brings blood to the surface and, according to Chinese medicine, can have various benefits on the body from stimulating blood flow, to relieving pain and drawing Qi energy to the area.
However, for all practical purposes those marks on Paltrow's back were hickeys. The suction on the skin draws blood to the surface, breaking tiny veins and causing a bruise.
Michael Flatley has not been lording it over the dance floor for the last several years because of a "mystery virus" that forced him to cancel his "Celtic Tiger" show in 2006. But the Celtic dancer and choreographer seemed to find a cure in the Plexus system, a treatment that utilizes so-called bio-energy, the "web that unites all reality," and works by "rebalancing the life force energy within and around the body," according to the Plexus Bio-Energy Web site.
Flatley told the Irish Independent newspaper that Michael O'Doherty, one of the founders of the Plexus system, treated him and that he is "close to 100 percent fit again."
For those in the public eye, life balance can tip decidedly toward excess. Many celebrities, such as Madonna, Goldie Hawn and Cherie Blair, turn to alternative Eastern medicines such as ayurveda to find balance. Supermodel Christy Turlington is one of the most staunch and vocal practitioners of ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine that originated in India.
"Through my practice of yoga I was drawn to ayurveda, a sister philosophy, and also to things that are generally better for me," Turlington said in an interview with Psychology Today magazine. "Ayurveda is a very complex science that is 5,000 years old. We all have all three doshas and all five elements of nature in each of us in varying degrees, which makes each of us an individual."
The balance between these five natural elements and three doshas, or bodily substances, is important for health and happiness, its promoters say. Ayurveda also places importance on exercise, yoga and meditation.
Turlington is also one of the creators of the ayurvedic skin-care company Sundari, which is Sanskrit for "beautiful woman."
With a name derived from Buddhist mythology, Uma Thurman should have no trouble with serenity, but the Oscar-nominated actress uses a few other tricks to keep herself centered.
Thurman is one of several Hollywood heavyweights to ascribe to gem therapy. Believers say that certain gems radiate specific energies that can affect mood and well-being. Thurman wears a carnelian necklace for vitality and happiness, according to a 2004 article in Redbook magazine.
Efforts to get in touch with Paltrow's publicist were not successful, but gem therapy has a healthy following outside of the Hollywood elite. Other gems often used include amethyst for wisdom and roselle for de-stressing.
Actor Nick Nolte is known for taking chances, and when it comes to his health, he is no different. Nolte, who, in an interview with Larry King on CNN, spoke about different ways to slow the aging process and stay healthy for as long as possible, said he tried a controversial treatment involving trioxygen (O3) or ozone, the name for three oxygen molecules bonded together.
Ozone is found in the upper atmosphere where it filters damaging ultraviolet rays from sunlight before it reaches Earth. Doctors have experimented with a variety of uses for ozone since it was discovered by a homeopathic doctor in 1856. Ozone is injected into the body in controlled amounts, not inhaled.
"It's a treatment that -- that oxidizes the brain," Nolte said in the interview. "And maybe -- certainly on the brain scan, you can see that the -- the brain is more metabolized."
But ozone as a therapy is controversial, with some experts saying it has healing properties for diseases like cancer and others saying it has no proven benefits. In fact, because it oxidizes organic compounds, ozone can be toxic.
Homeopathic Drugs and Mistletoe Injections
Television actress Suzanne Somers, best known for her sitcom roles as Chrissy Snow in "Three's Company" and Carol Lambert in "Step by Step," has in recent years become a proponent for healthy living and alternative therapies.
Somers stirred up controversy in 2001, when she disclosed on CNN's "Larry King" that she was using a homeopathic drug to help treat her breast cancer. Following conventional surgery and radiation therapy, she chose a therapy using mistletoe injections rather than pursue the recommended chemotherapy after her treatment.
While some mistletoe products are used in other countries for breast cancer treatment, there is no evidence that such injections can cure breast cancer, said Barrie Cassileth, the chief of integrative medicine service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in an interview for the ABCNews.com OnCall+ Breast Cancer Center. Still, Cassileth said mistletoe products might cause some breast cancer patients to feel better, but there's not enough scientific data on the subject.
Various British media outlets, including The Times and The Daily Record, have said that Beatles legend Paul McCartney is a fan of the Alexander technique. Calls to McCartney's publicist for comment on this were not returned.
Not so much a treatment as a therapeutic practice, the Alexander technique is a series of movements designed to change balance, movement, breathing and thinking.
Actor Frederick Alexander developed the technique in the 1940s to help his voice and breathing.
Mainstream medicine has done few studies of the Alexander technique; however, some small studies in Britain have shown the Alexander technique to be more effective than massage or exercise for back pain.
Sarah Ferguson, the former Duchess of York, can add health writer to her copious resume. According to an article in the March 2004 issue of W magazine, Fergie and her two daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, received bio-energy treatments from Russian energy healer Alla Svirinskaya. Fergie was so impressed with the treatments, she wrote the foreword to her healer's 2005 book "Energy Secrets: The Ultimate Well-Being Plan."
Svirinskaya is a fifth-generation healer, according to W, and practices in Notting Hill, a neighborhood in West London.